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‘Flying farmer’ still kicking up dirt

Washburn, 78, has been racing for five decades

By Scott Thoma

Clarence Washburn, 78, has been racing since the late 1970s, competes in about 20 races a year now. Contributed photo

Clarence Washburn still hasn’t learned to act his age. At 78 years old, his daily activities would rival someone half his age.

Washburn has farmed his entire adult life outside of Hector, is a truck driver that mainly hauls agricultural products all over the country, and still races Late Model cars on several area dirt tracks.

“If you like what you do, it’s not work,” he said bluntly. “It keeps my mind busy and they say that’s good for people. I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t busy. I like what I’m doing.”

“Dad is a workaholic, but he loves it,” both of his daughters relayed.

Clarence and his wife, Judy, celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary on Dec. 15. They have two daughters, Natalie (Chuck) Werner and Nyla (Scott) Stafford, four grandchildren and a great-granddaughter that was born on Nov. 14.

Clarence grew up in Hector and began farming in 1968, taking over his parents’ farm when his father retired in 1975. He once raised hogs on the farm, but now farms corn and beans with the help of his grandson, Austin Werner.

He and his wife began a trucking company in 2001 and had a dozen trucks in the fleet at one time. Natalie took over the company in January of 2020, but Clarence now leases four trucks from Natalie as a sub-contractor and a newly formed LLC.

“Ninety percent of what I haul now is agriculture related,” he said. “Mainly seed and feed. I go to Montana, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Texas and a bunch of other states.”

It’s his passion for driving stock cars on dirt tracks that keeps him young, though.

Clarence Washburn, right, goes over race strategy with his daughter Natalie Werner, who attends all of his races. Contributed photo

“We’re dirt people, not asphalt people,” Natalie joked. “My two sons were raised at the race track. They grew up with wrenches in their hands.”

Clarence has raced well over 20 different tracks over a five-decade racing career. He was inducted into the KRA Speedway Hall of Fame in Willmar in February of 2020.

“My brother (Rich Leske) was racing Street Stock when he was 16 years old,” Judy said, explaining Clarence’s initial interest in racing. “He was driving a ‘57 Chevy that my dad owned. My brother wanted to jump to racing Modifieds, so my dad bought him a Modified car.”

The ‘57 Chevy was still in good shape, but now without a driver. The car had won two track championships, KRA Speedway and the Redwood Speedway in Redwood Falls.

“My dad asked Clarence if he wanted to try driving it,” Judy continued. “Clarence jumped in it and he was hooked.”

“They used to call him the ‘Flying Farmer’ when he raced,” Nyla noted. “He’s always been involved in so many things and is gone a lot, but he has been an amazing dad and a terrific husband. His family is important to him.”

Over his first 30 years of driving, Judy missed only three of her husband’s race nights.

“And I was driving three nights a week sometimes, too,” Clarence said, expressing pride in his wife’s involvement. “I would drive in Willmar on Friday night, Bird Island on Saturday night, and Redwood Falls on Sunday night.”

Clarence switched to driving Late Model stock cars in the early 1980s and has won track championships several times, in his number 3 car, at various tracks.

Clarence Washburn and his wife Judy recently celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary. Contributed photo

“When he raced at Slayton this past fall for the last race of the season, the cars were lined up nose to tail and we were a little worried about that,” said Nyla. “But his reflexes are still so good. Everything he has, he earned through blood and sweat.”

“I don’t race at one track to earn enough points to win championships anymore,” he said. “I only race about 20 times a year now, and I like to race at different tracks.”

There have been many stories to tell over the years at the race track.

“I was racing in Rock Rapids, Iowa, a year ago,” Clarence said. “My pit crew was me, Natalie, Natalie’s friend (Ranell Carlson) from her work, and my granddaughter, Savannah Stafford. It was kind of funny, but that was my pit crew. We made it work.”

With Judy limiting her attendance at races now, Natalie goes with her father to all of his races.

“I thought he’d be done by now,” Judy laughed. “But it means so much to him.”

“It’s like a family outing when dad is racing,” Natalie explained. “Family members are always going to watch him race if he is racing in their area. My dad and I even go to Florida in the winter to watch racing at the dirt tracks in Volusia County.”

Clarence also raced snowmobiles from 1969-76.

Like all race car drivers, Clarence has been in a few accidents. He was seriously injured when his car hit a wall and the car flipped at Madison Speedway in 1984. The cage collapsed and a portion of the guard rail cracked his helmet and caused him to have a concussion.

“I also cracked some ribs,” Clarence said. “My wife said ‘No more’ after that happened.”

Clarence Washburn works on his car between a race this past summer. Contributed photo

But with the urging of his brother-in-law, the car was eventually repaired and Clarence was back racing again once he healed up.

“He was a little sneaky about it, but it all worked out,” Judy said with a laugh.

Clarence has been in other accidents, too. He wrecked a car in Fargo in 1986, broke his ankle in 1992 in a freak accident in Alexandria when the car ahead of him lost a piece of lead and it went through the firewall of Clarence’s car and struck him on the ankle, and damaged his vehicle when he hit a wall in Fergus Falls in 2014.

“Cars are a lot safer now than they used to be,” he said. “And I don’t wreck as much anymore because I don’t like fixing them.”

In honor of her dad, Natalie had a stroller custom-made to look like his Late Model car. She and her husband gave it to their granddaughter, Ada Rae Herman, for Christmas. Ada Rae already has ear muffs and a Washburn Racing t-shirt so she can attend her great grandfather’s races.

When someone is busy, they are often referred to as “running around in circles.” For Clarence, it’s been more like driving around in ovals.

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